The Marathon is Over

So, here we are.

There are a lot of political things to be said today and in the coming weeks, and they should be said by people smarter than me.

But I just want to point out that today is the finish line of a marathon. (To be fair, it’s a marathon that we thought ended two months ago, but just like the actual finish line of a race, it turned out to be just a bit farther off than it actually was.)

And at the end of a marathon, you see a sea of humanity. Some people are overjoyed. Some people are totally wrecked. Some are bewildered, delusional. You see people staggering about, zombie-like. You see people sprawled out, nearly lifeless, on the grass. You see people high-fiving and hugging strangers. (Maybe not so much this year. Y’know, COVID and all.)

Because a marathon is this incredibly demanding, physically destructive thing, right? You train and train and then on the day, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other for mile upon mile and you stop and catch your breath at the aid station but there’s really nothing to do except keep on running toward the next one and the sun’s getting higher in the sky and your nipples are chafing and that twinge in your ankle transforms to white fire with every step and all you hear, all you trust, all you know is the soft metronome of your footsteps, the muffled roar of the breath going in and out, the blood pumping in your ears.

We’ve all been through it over the last four years, and the last year, especially. We’ve all been running a mental marathon, and it’s been absolutely brutal.

No matter which “team” we’re on, 2020 was a rough one, and 2021 seems not to want to be outdone so far.

But we’ve all crossed the finish line, or at least, *a* finish line. There are more miles to be run. But not today.

Today is a day for celebration at reaching the end, it’s a day for nursing injuries. It’s a day for walking down the stairs backwards because your legs just can’t handle the strain.

And it’s worth remembering that all our neighbors have just run the same race, even if they’re not showing it on the outside. And even if, instead of the jubilation that I feel, they’re shell-shocked and lying at the grass or screaming at the sun in hopes of somehow changing reality.

Nobody’s mind is right after a marathon.

Take a few days, at least, to recover. And know that everybody else is recovering, too. And spread a little kindness.

Because a marathon is a hell of a thing to go through. We’ve earned a couple of mental rest days.

Poor Iago

Remember at the end of Aladdin?

Jafar finally gets the lamp and stuff goes downhill real quick. He goes from super-creepy dude with a mild hypnotic power to being a sultan to being a sorceror to being an all-powerful genie in the space of, I dunno, five minutes of movie time? And it’s like, quickly apparent to everybody that he’s overstepped, got in over his head in his race and rage for power, and just like that, it’s over?

I keep thinking about that moment lately.

Not because of Jafar, in particular — although Jafar is interesting enough as a comparison to *ahem* certain figures in current events. (Lies a lot, power-hungry, more than a little skeevy, more focused on having power than actually wielding it.)

No, I keep thinking about Iago.

Iago (Parrot) - Mrs. Root's Music Room

Jafar’s accomplice, Iago. His parrot. You know, voiced — annoyingly, yet somehow, iconically — by Gilbert Gottfried? (Yes, obviously, I’m talking about the animated version, but honestly, this little detour works just as well in the live-action remake.)

Jafar gets sucked into the lamp at the end — rightfully so, as anybody in the audience would conclude — and out of, what? Spite? Rage? An unwillingness to go down alone? He drags Iago into the lamp with him.

Poor Iago.

I’m not arguing Iago did no wrong. He did. He was Jafar’s accomplice throughout the whole thing; he even — if I’m remembering rightly (though it’s been a while) — helps to sabotage Aladdin and Jasmine at a few points. And he is certainly happy to avail himself of Jafar’s status and power along the way.

But Iago is not, in and of himself, evil. And certainly not as evil as Jafar. And certainly certainly not doomed to a practical eternity in a lamp with the now power-mad and raging Jafar evil.

Iago was a patsy. A henchman. He was the tool of Jafar, not because he wanted to do evil himself, but by dint of being slave to an evil master.

Had Iago belonged to another master, he would almost certainly have turned out differently. Iago didn’t choose his evil, he was driven to it, and would as easily be driven to good, had things gone differently for him.

So Iago being dragged into the lamp to suffer for millenia just because Jafar is a sore loser?

Doesn’t quite sit right.

But Jafar is who he is, and he can’t stomach losing alone, so he’s determined to drag somebody — anybody — down with him.

So, obviously, the parallel I’m making here is between Jafar — who is beaten and he knows it, and drags down his loyal henchman into the abyss with him — and a certain somebody in American politics — who is beaten and he knows it, and is stubbornly allowing his henchmen to self-immolate in the national media on his behalf, because he can’t stand the truth.

The difference, of course, is that Iago tries to flee in the end — he just can’t escape Jafar’s grasp.

The Iagos of the current day do not seem to be fleeing all that hard.

I love wearing masks, I hate wearing masks

Never have I had such a love-hate relationship with a thing as with masks.

On the one hand, I actually really, really like wearing one. For one thing, having a practical way to gain some protection against illness — that nobody is asking questions about since everybody is doing it (or at least they should be!) — is fantastic. For another, it stays bloody cold in my office and, silly as it sounds, I sometimes keep the mask on even when I’m all alone because it literally keeps my face warmer.

Truly, though, I have a bit of RBF and the mask just helps to cover that up. (I’ve heard that I intimidate students — those who don’t know me, at least — because I just “look scary”. I don’t see it.)

So, masks are great!

But they’re, unfortunately, not all that comfortable. I end up smelling my own breath a lot more than I’d like, which is … strange. And they get in the way of reading faces, which kiiinda screws up communication with people.

But more than anything, I hate just how divisive they’ve become, in light of everything in our country. They’re symbolic, somehow, of the chasm that’s opened up between the right and the left in this country, and I heckin’ hate it. Because the mask itself is an item utterly without content. It’s there to protect you and others around you from the spread of disease, that’s it, full stop.

But because everything in America is political now, wearing one or not wearing one can be a signal to everybody else about how you think about issues as wide-ranging as abortion, gun control, free speech, religion … the mask has become entrenched in all this other crap and it’s keeping us in this hellish liminal state, this limbo between “getting back to normal” and totally locked down.

And because masks turned all controversial, we’ve been stuck living these half-lives for months while much of the rest of the world is moving on. It’s like watching a rescue boat sail away as you’re going down with the Titanic.

Jesus, everything feels so depressing.

Anyway, you should vote in November.

Alternative Realities

I heard somewhere recently (it may have been Joe Rogan’s podcast, but who knows really) how strange people’s beliefs really are … and how little it matters.

Like, for example, you could be at the grocery store, and on the other side of the conveyor belt from you could be a person who believes that Mohammed flew to the moon on a winged horse. Or that God literally created the earth in seven days about six thousand years ago. Or that 9/11 was an inside job, or that we never walked on the moon. Or that evolution is a hoax.

People believe all kinds of crazy stuff.

Thing is, there was a time — and that time feels like it was not even so very long ago — where that kind of thing just didn’t matter. Sure, you’ve got people believing all sorts of madness, but when it came to the day-to-day reality they walked around in, we could all pretty much agree on what reality was and what mattered in the here-and-now.

Sure, we may have different beliefs on how life came to be on this planet, but right now, these groceries are here. They need bagging, and I’d like to pay for them. And the world shuffles on.

That feels, somehow, less true, now.

Because more and more out beliefs seem to glom onto one another and fall into us over here and them over there thinking. Wearing a mask, for example, seems to send the message that you just might be an ultra-liberal, Biden-voting socialist, and not wearing one seems to say you just might be a Trump supporter in a death cult. And that seems to contaminate even the simple act of checking out at the grocery store. (How can we carry on a relationship, no matter how brief, when one party seems concerned for the well-being of the other — as evidenced by mask-wearing — when the other thinks the first is foolish for even thinking about it?)

Less and less it feels like we even inhabit the same reality. It’s almost as if you can choose the reality that you live in, and the differences between those realities are vast and significant. And the differences in our realities seem to matter more and more.

Social media, and even media generally is no help. All we see are the extremes.

This is poisoning everything.

How the hell do we get back from this?

An Understated Genius

Because my wife apparently wanted to give me a stroke on Father’s Day, she gave me this:


But because my wife is very smart and very funny and doesn’t actually want to give me a stroke, the inside of the book looks like this:


275 pages of blank space. Which at first seems rather excessive, but upon further review, no, 275 pages of wasted space sounds just about right.

Where does she find this stuff?